The 49ers got by the Chiefs with a five-point win on Sunday to improve to 3-2 as Jim Harbaugh’s team began its first winning streak of the season.
Frank Gore (107 yards on 18 carries) hit the century mark for the second straight week for the first time since 2011. The 49ers moved to 30-7 when Gore reaches the 100-yard plateau.
The key Sunday was improved offensive line play. The 49ers ran the ball 40 times and had 27 pass attempts a week after running it 42 times and passing 30. They can talk about being as versatile as they want - going with four and five receivers as they did in Week 2’s loss in Arizona - but it’s clear the team’s strength still lies in handing the ball to Gore.
Perhaps as Colin Kaepernick continues to develop, with the key being limiting his mistakes, San Francisco will get to that point with their versatility. But with the offensive line rounding into shape, that shouldn’t change. This week’s opponent, the Rams, are allowing 153 rushing yards per game, the third-most in the NFL.
As Daniel Kilgore, Mike Iupati and Alex Boone continue to improve their play on the line’s interior, the 49ers will likely maintain their run-first approach going forward. We don’t want to leave out left tackle Joe Staley, who had one of the better games of his impressive career Sunday, road grading along the perimeter and having a good game in pass protection against the talented Tamba Hali. Jonathan Martin also held his own filling in for Anthony Davis, and is looking like a good investment of a seventh round pick, despite getting off to a rough start in the early weeks.
Here’s our breakdown of the All-22 tape from Sunday’s win over Kansas City:
It was a theme of the first half. Kansas City converted 6 of 8 third downs before failing to convert on any in the third and fourth quarters.
Safety Eric Reid said after the game the Chiefs switched up their keys and tendencies, which caught the 49ers out of position a few times in the first half. But defensive coordinator Vic Fangio made adjustments at halftime and San Francisco’s defense allowed just one score in the second half when De’Anthony Thomas scooted up the left sideline from 17 yards out early in the third quarter.
The big sequence of the opening drive came on second-and-7 from the 49ers’ 39-yard line. Wideout Junior Hemingway was left wide open over the middle of the field and scampered 10 yards to the 17.
Linebacker Patrick Willis vacated the middle of the field to cover fullback Anthony Sherman in the right flat, while Jimmie Ward and Michael Wilhoite both went with running back Knile Davis in the left flat. Hemingway was in the slot and just sat in the middle of the field. Without knowing the exact call, it looked like a typical Cover 1 (man-to-man) mix up. It was compounded the next play when Ahmad Brooks jumped offside.
The 49ers had to settle for a field goal on their first drive after trying a gadget play on first down from the Chiefs’ 18. It was a reverse pass to Anquan Boldin, who had the option to run if Michael Crabtree wasn’t open. Crabtree was, initially, but Boldin held on to the ball a couple beats too long and under threw his receiver.
Harbaugh stressed Monday that it was a lack of coaching on his part not reminding Boldin of the run option. He had a running lane that would have likely gotten a first down up the right sideline with blockers in front. But instead, a five-yard Kaepernick run and dangerous pass on third down, that was nearly intercepted by Ron Parker, led to Phil Dawson’s first field goal. He would hit five on the day.
Brandon Lloyd (3 catches, 76 yards) became the fourth 49er to lead the team in receiving this season. His second catch, a 38-yarder, came after San Francisco tried the same play consecutively.
On the first try, there was a miscommunication and Lloyd stopped while Kaepernick threw deep. The second, Lloyd kept going and beat former 49ers corner Marcus Cooper down the sideline on a stop-and-go route. Kaepernick held the safety by looking to the left before going to the right on both plays.
Kansas City’s scoring drive in the third quarter was kick started by De’Anthony Thomas’ 28-yard punt return up the left side. After Thomas slipped by Nick Moody, who might have strained his hamstring on the play, Reid looked like he was in position to make a play on Thomas.
But Reid took a block in the back that went without a flag. It may have been tough for the official to pick up in all the traffic.
A play later, Jamaal Charles’ biggest run of the day went for 26 yards to the 49ers’ 32. The Chiefs’ offensive line blocked well on the play, but Willis and Ahmad Brooks over pursued to the right side giving Charles a cutback lane. And it didn’t help that Perrish Cox over committed to the sideline leaving the middle of the field open.
The touchdown pass to Thomas was a perfect play call for the 49ers' defensive look. Ward was blitzing from the left slot and the second level of the defense had to hesitate with Charles running a play fake to the right. Thomas slipped left, where Kansas City had three blockers for three defenders.
Antoine Bethea had a chance to stop Thomas for a loss, but Anthony Fasano chipped him enough to allow Thomas to use his speed and break the tackle. Chiefs’ center Rodney Hudson did good work to keep Chris Culliver and Willis from preventing the score by pulling left and getting down field. That score made it 17-13 early in the third.
The 49ers drove to the Chiefs’ 20 the following drive, but then had four-straight negative plays: a false start on Mike Iupati, a sack, a scramble for a loss and another sack.
On the first sack, Kaepernick had Vance McDonald wide open on a deep corner route to the left for a score. But he felt the pressure from Justin Houston from his right, who bull rushed Jonathan Martin close to the QB. Kaepernick stepped up, only to find Hali in his lap, sidestepped him, and was sacked by Houston as he tried to escape the pocket. Had he thrown at the top of his drop, Kaepernick would have likely had his second TD pass of the day. No one was within 10 yards of McDonald.
On the next sack, Dontari Poe beat Boone with an extremely fast swim move not many nose guards can make. Kaepernick escaped Poe, but his pressure forced Kaepernick into Allen Bailey, who was credited with the sack.
The 49ers settled for a field goal. Dawson hit from 52 yard to cut the lead to 1.
San Francisco’s defense forced a three-and-out on Kansas City’s next possession. Charles received three touches, but was stopped for gains of 4 and 1 yard, before getting tackled by Reid on a out pattern a yard short of the first down.
The key play was by nose tackle Ian Williams on second down. He plugged the A-gap while occupying two lineman, forcing Charles to bounce outside where Michael Wilhoite was to make the tackle.
The 29-yard catch Lloyd made moments later was impressive considering how high he had to jump to get the ball over 6-foot-3 Sean Smith.
Kansas City brought three blitzers to the left side of the 49ers’ line on that play, forcing Kaepernick to get the ball out his hands quickly. Carlos Hyde did a nice job picking up Josh Mauga allowing Kaepernick to get the ball off before taking a hit.
After the Chiefs inexplicable 12-men on the field penalty on the 49ers’ 54-yard field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, the 49ers were unable to get in the end zone. Harbaugh took partial responsibility for the play calling Monday.
On second-and-10 from the Chiefs’ 9, Hyde was stopped up the middle by Hali, who flew in from his right end spot to the middle of the field.
"Really, when you talk about pursuit, that was pursuit at the highest level,” Harbaugh said of the play. "And then the next play call was mine. I really felt if he was going to pursue like that, then we could run the quarterback keep around the edge and Tamba played it different.
"So, that hurt us on that last attempt to really get the ball into the end zone. (Hali) played it different. Kap made a spectacular effort of not losing too many yards, but I got outsmarted on that one."
Harbaugh dialed up a play-action quarterback run to Hali’s side of the field the next play, and Hali sniffed it out, making a play on Kaepernick in the backfield before he scrambled outside for a two-yard loss, setting up an unenviable third-down-and-12. Kaepernick ran for 4 touchdowns in 2013, and it appears defense are emphasizing stopping his designed runs in the red zone.
On the third-down play, the 49ers called an out route for Boldin at the goal line, where he forced contact with Marcus Cooper at the top of his route to gain leverage before breaking outside. Kaepernick threw the ball on the run and it came out too high for Boldin to score. It didn’t turn out to be a back-breaking play, but it was another case where Kaepernick’s inaccuracy hurt him.
The 49ers made a point to go after Cooper, their former seventh-round pick last year, targeting him nine times, including Stevie Johnson's second-quarter touchdown. Johnson could have been called for offensive pass interference, just as Boldin could have on that third-down play.
Kansas City was missing two key defenders on the day, linebacker Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry, who are the team’s best defenders on the second and third levels.
Still, it was an impressive showing from San Francisco’s offensive line, who had its most cohesive effort of the season.
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